When Al Franken resigns but the GOP supports alleged molesters and others take advantage of female empowerment for political gain, jerks win – and we lose.
Anyone who hasn’t been in a leftover turkey-induced coma for the last several weeks is aware of the growing cultural impact of the #MeToo movement. Suddenly, women who claim that they experienced sexual harassment or assault at the hands of powerful men are being believed, with action being taken (and not always the kind of “slut-shame and silence the woman” action to which so many of us have grown accustomed). The ranks of fallen read like a cultural who’s-who: Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., Al Franken (D-MN), Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor, John Conyers (D-MI), and many more who haven’t paid as large a price for their alleged transgressions.
It’s hard to miss the distinct Democrat-ward skew, if not of every notable man who stands accused of sexual misconduct, at least of those who have taken a larger fall. It’s certainly not true that only “left” feet are made of clay. While Al Franken and John Conyers have been forced to resign by pressure from within their own party, Republicans like Roy Moore (accused of assaulting younger teenage women) and Donald “Grab Them by the P*ssy” Trump seem to be made of Teflon. Why is it unfolding quite this way?
Morality is a double-edged sword, especially when wielded, well, morally. To avoid the stink of hypocrisy, one must be willing to hold oneself to (at least!) the standard to which one holds others. Al Franken, for example, probably shouldn’t have acted like an offensive doofus on the 2006 USO tour when he posed for a photo op while seeming to grope Leeann Tweeden, but then again, acting like an offensive doofus is often a comedian’s stock in trade. As a politician, Franken had a reputation for supporting the empowerment of women, leading, perhaps ironically, to his resignation, once he realized he could no longer be effective in his position.
Senator Al Franken’s Resignation Speech
Al Franken resigned as a kind of human sacrifice to the #MeToo moment and the women whose stories should be believed, but what does he leave behind? Trump and the Republican base mercilessly mock men like Franken, but do not seem to hold their own leaders to the same standard. As a recent Slate article put it, “Sure, don’t stoop to their level. But let’s acknowledge that the game Republicans are forcing everyone to play insists morality is for losers.” If fans of politicians like Trump and Moore really do believe that strong Alpha males are enhanced by allegations of sexual misconduct, where’s the admiration for Franken? Perhaps Dems taking the high road and ceding power while the GOP continues to support (alleged) serial abusers and take political advantage of Democratic disgrace means that those who take the low road will ultimately and frequently prevail.
As women have come forth and been believed, the power they’ve gained hasn’t been lost on the unscrupulous, either. For example, take Jaime Phillips, who approached the Washington Post with a fake story about having been molested and forced into having an abortion by Roy Moore, in order to discredit the newspaper that broke the Moore scandal. Also, take Gabrielle Fane, who, before making her Twitter account private, posted a suggestion that Bernie Sanders could be taken down, Al Franken style, if she could get enough anonymous women to claim that he’d groped them. Luckily these attempts went down in flames, but the same “fake rape” stories that men have feared for years have now become a tool in the political arsenal.
Accusations are not the same as guilt. Jaime Phillips and Gabrielle Fane know this just as you and I do. This moral truth is another a double-edged sword which takes on clear importance now, as women are increasingly believed in the court of public opinion. The #MeToo movement made manifestly clear that many stories of hidden abuse are long overdue to be heard and believed. Let us take care that this newfound and well-deserved power is not co-opted for political gain alone. If we fail, this crucial cultural victory for women will devolve into simply another way for jerks to continue winning. If that happens, we will all lose.